The Gentle Grafter
Modern Rural Sports
Jeff Peters must be reminded. Whenever he is called upon, pointedly, for a story, he will
maintain that his life has been as devoid of incident as the longest of Trollope's novels.
But lured, he will divulge. Therefore I cast many and divers flies upon the current of his
thoughts before I feel a nibble.
"I notice," said I, "that the Western farmers, in spite of their prosperity, are running after
their old populistic idols again."
"It's the running season," said Jeff, "for farmers, shad, maple trees and the Connemaugh
river. I know something about farmers. I thought I struck one once that had got out of the
rut; but Andy Tucker proved to me I was mistaken. 'Once a farmer, always a sucker,' said
Andy. 'He's the man that's shoved into the front row among bullets, ballots and the ballet.
He's the funny-bone and gristle of the country,' said Andy, 'and I don't know who we
would do without him.'
"One morning me and Andy wakes up with sixty-eight cents between us in a yellow pine
hotel on the edge of the pre-digested hoe-cake belt of Southern Indiana. How we got off
the train there the night before I can't tell you; for she went through the village so fast that
what looked like a saloon to us through the car window turned out to be a composite view
of a drug store and a water tank two blocks apart. Why we got off at the first station we
could, belongs to a little oroide gold watch and Alaska diamond deal we failed to pull off
the day before, over the Kentucky line.
"When I woke up I heard roosters crowing, and smelt something like the fumes of nitro-
muriatic acid, and heard something heavy fall on the floor below us, and a man swearing.
"'Cheer up, Andy,' says I. 'We're in a rural community. Somebody has just tested a gold
brick downstairs. We'll go out and get what's coming to us from a farmer; and then
yoicks! and away.'
"Farmers was always a kind of reserve fund to me. Whenever I was in hard luck I'd go to
the crossroads, hook a finger in a farmer's suspender, recite the prospectus of my swindle
in a mechanical kind of a way, look over what he had, give him back his keys, whetstone
and papers that was of no value except to owner, and stroll away without asking any
questions. Farmers are not fair game to me as high up in our business as me and Andy
was; but there was times when we found 'em useful, just as Wall Street does the Secretary
of the Treasury now and then.
"When we went down stairs we saw we was in the midst of the finest farming section we
ever see. About two miles away on a hill was a big white house in a grove surrounded by
a wide-spread agricultural agglomeration of fields and barns and pastures and out-houses.
"'Whose house is that?' we asked the landlord.